Monday, August 28, 2017

Dear Tobe

by Patrick Bromley
My guy is gone.

Dear Tobe,

I woke up Sunday morning to my wife gently telling me she had sad news: Tobe Hooper died. I'm glad I got to hear it from her instead of finding out on Facebook or something, but I didn't have any words to respond. I knew the day would come eventually -- I have talked about it on more than one occasion -- but it's the kind of thing for which you can never actually be ready. Still, here we are. I'm trying to write this while crying on and off because writing is all I have to offer. And I owe you that much.

When George Romero passed away just about a month ago, I wrote about how sad it was and how much it knocked me on my ass. I was criticized for this by a couple of readers, at least one of whom was apparently so disgusted by my reaction that he announced he would no longer be visiting the site. I was told that I take movies too seriously. I mention this not to throw shade but to offer a bit of preface: if you are someone who thinks I take movies too seriously or who found yourself appalled at my response to George Romero's death, you're going to want to stop reading now. It's not going to get better or less personal. This loss, more than any other, has wrecked me.

You were my guy, Tobe. I never met you, never spoke to you, never had any personal interactions with you the way so many of my friends and acquaintances online have. I can only imagine what they are going through, much less your friends and family, who have lost not just a filmmaker they love but an actual loved one. You're my guy because I love your movies more than almost anyone else's and because I have written about your work more than any other filmmaker. You're my guy, Tobe, because your work was perpetually misunderstood and I have a natural predisposition to champion the underdog. This is not suggesting that I'm a born contrarian, deliberately choosing to throw my support behind art that is unloved. I find nothing contrarian about my love for you or your films. You're my guy, Tobe, because I connect with your work in ways I connect with almost no one else's, and recognizing that has actually helped unlock within myself a better understanding of who I am. Is this not one of the truest functions of art?
As is often the way when a major artist passes away, social media has exploded with tributes and condolences. It's nice to see, even though the petty parts of me wish that you had been shown as much love when you were alive to see it. This is a big part of why I knew it would be so difficult to lose you and why I'm so heartbroken today: you had a hard career, surrounded by controversy, clashing with producers and financiers, battling substance abuse, leaving projects, whispered about by fans and too often dismissed as a "one hit wonder" whose greatest film -- which just happens to be one of the greatest horror movies ever made -- must have been some kind of fluke. I clocked it at under two hours from when I first heard the news to when I saw the first "Spielberg really directed Poltergeist joke," because everyone's worst day is just another excuse to be snarky and shitty for someone else. On Saturday you were too often a punchline or a cautionary tale; on Sunday, you were a Master of Horror whose work meant so much to so many. I'm trying not to be bitter, Tobe, because I don't think you ever were. The remembrances from those who knew you best all mention your sweetness, you gentle nature, your dark sense of humor and your willingness to lend an ear to anyone. Like so many of the greats of your generation, you were the nicest man who managed to conjure up the fucked-up stuff of nightmares. Assholes can't do that. The greats, like yourself, scare us because you have empathy. You understand our humanity and what makes us afraid.

With the exception of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, none of your films were perfect. That's ok. Good, in fact. Perfect bores me. (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre does not bore me.) Besides, your movies were perfect for me. I love their energy, their wicked humor, their refusal to compromise or bow to expectations. No one was ever ready for a Tobe Hooper movie, not from the first frame of TCM to the last frame of Djinn, your final film. Chain Saw rocked audiences to their core in 1974, tearing down the rules of horror cinema and destroying the dream of the 1960s in the process. It continues to rock people still today as an unrelentingly visceral experience in non-stop terror. For as much as the movie represents a sea change from the 1960s into the jaded paranoia of the 1970s, Texas Chain Saw is timeless because fear is timeless. No movie creates or captures fear better.
Chain Saw was a revolution, but it wasn't your last. You never made a choice that was safe or predictable. You were hired to make Stephen King's Salem's Lot into a TV miniseries and decided that just because it was made for TV was no reason it couldn't be completely terrifying, scarier than just about any made-for-TV movie before or since. The Funhouse, still my favorite of your films, is a movie that's entirely about subverting our expectations, whether it's the reveal of the POV shower killer in the opening or the long buildup in which the characters wander around a carnival where nothing is quite what it seems, then encounter a monster that's not the monster we think. The movie never stops surprising us. With Lifeforce, you took material that might have otherwise made for a cheap, Cormanesque B-movie and gave it A-list treatment -- massive scope and every bit of the huge $25 million budget (the largest ever for a Cannon production) up there on the screen. The result is a special and truly eccentric film that 1985 audiences couldn't wrap their heads around; like so many of your movies, it is only with the passage of time that people have begun to come around on your special genius. I wish it hadn't taken so long.

Then there was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, one of my favorite horror sequels movies of all time and maybe the greatest tonal shift ever between a film and its follow-up. You turned the terror into gallows humor, cranking the gore and the volume up past 11 and once again defying any and all expectations of what a Texas Chain Saw sequel would be. Invaders from Mars turns everything about "family-friendly" '80s sci-fi squarely on its head and functions as a refutation of all the bullshit Poltergeist rumors. Your adaptation of The Mangler, arguably your most batshit crazy movie, is like nothing else in '90s horror. The Toolbox Murders is the rare remake that surpasses its predecessor, silencing any of the naysayers who doubted you still had your fastball. And while all of your films are surprising and unpredictable, you were not a filmmaker who was constantly reinventing himself. All of your movies are the work of the same voice. All of your movies are Tobe Hooper movies.
It is not your ability to generate a scare that makes you my favorite, even though there are scares in many of your movies that do everything from make us jump to make us sweat and claw at the armrest until our fingernails bleed (an image I suspect would please you greatly). No, what makes you my guy is that your movies have endless, distinct personality. A frame of a Tobe Hooper movie cannot be mistaken for anything else but a Tobe Hooper movie. They are weird and they are wild and they are wonderful. And though you rarely get credit for your skills as a technician -- the way, say, your fellow masters John Carpenter and Dario Argento do -- so much of your special, mad genius lies in the formal elements of your work: the way your camera moves, the lighting design, the rhythms of your cutting. For so many years, the insane alchemy of your movies has been chalked up to an accident by too many corners of the horror community who wouldn't take you seriously outside of Texas Chain Saw.

Maybe that's why I'm so sad about losing you, Tobe. It's because you were always mentioned among the genre greats but your greatness was too rarely talked about. And your greatness is pretty much all I ever talk about, to an almost comical degree. Today, a whole bunch of people reached out to me to say they were sorry and thought of me when the news broke. That's just about the nicest thing ever. If I did not respond, it's only because I find myself still unable to talk about it and because I don't want to make your death about me. But I'm happy that the many years of being unable to shut up about how much I love you did not go unheard, and from the sound of it I even managed to get a few people to check out or revisit some of your movies. That's the best thing I can do.
I've watched nothing but your movies all day. In each film, I've noticed something small and special that I've never noticed before, and each time it has brought me to tears again. Tears because I'm reminded you are gone. Tears because we will never get a new Tobe Hooper movie in which I can keep finding new small and special moments. I know that I will always have the films you did make (as well as your television work and your novel, which I plan to re-read immediately), and for that I am grateful. May they continue to provide me and all of your fans the joy that they always have, and now a special kind of solace, too. I don't know how to live in world without Tobe Hooper because I've never had to do it before, but I do know that you will continue to speak to us all through your work. Please promise that you will. The world needs your voice. I need your voice.

In all of my years running F This Movie!, I think this the hardest thing I've had to write. I've had to say goodbye to filmmakers I love before, but none have ever felt as personal as this does. That's because my fandom of you, Tobe Hooper, is very personal. It's part of who I am. The things we love most always are. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I still dreamed I would someday get to meet you, to shake your hand, to share a Dr. Pepper with you, to tell just how much you have meant to me. I'm sure you've heard it thousands of times, but it's important to always let people know when their work matters. When they matter. Someday they will be gone and it will be too late. It's too late now for me, Tobe, and the sad reality of that fact is overwhelming. Even this piece is too little, too late. I can't believe you're gone.
Thank you for your work and your incredible filmography. I'm sorry you had to take so much shit along the way, but I hope that it only made you stronger and more determined. Your refusal to ever call it quits is an inspiration to someone like me, who is always more than halfway to calling it quits for good. You changed the face of horror forever and then continued to push yourself, never making the same movie twice and never resting on the achievement of directing what is widely considered to be the greatest horror film ever made. You have meant so much to stupid little me, a movie fan who longs for something different and who spent years not understanding why it seemed like I responded to so many disparate elements in movies until it became clear after I saw them all come together in your work. Thank you. From the bottom of my movie-loving heart, thank you.

You're my guy, Tobe Hooper. You always will be.

Goodbye.

"He made history. Everybody else just made movies." - Caroline Williams

30 comments:

  1. If any of you out there are going to take the opportunity to revisit Tobe's movies in the wake of this weekend, give Spontaneous Combustion a try; it's another of the many underappreciated masterpieces on his resume that doesn't get enough love, even amongst his fans.

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    1. Thanks for that. I worked on SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (as wel as several other projects with Tobe) and have even written a book documenting the experience. It's a gem, and deserves a second look on this sad, sad day.

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  2. I'll admit I thought of you straight away upon hearing the sad news as well, Patrick. It may be of small comfort, but reading your writing, and listening to your complete adoration of Tobe turned me on to both Lifeforce and The Funhouse, both of which I now love and may have never seen otherwise.

    Movies matter. Your love for Tobe Hooper matters, and goddamn it, this site matters.

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    1. My sentiments exactly. Couldn't have said it better!!

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  3. That completely broke my heart, but thank you for it, Patrick. Out of everything I have read today in relation to Tobe's passing THIS was a total tribute. Beautifully said and written as someone who gets it. Again...thank you. ~Amy~

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  4. great tribute Patrick, while I also adore the likes of romero, carpenter, cronenberg and craven. Tobe Hooper has a body of work that is far more eclectic and interesting and in salems lot and tcm two movies that completely shook me to my core when I saw them at an impressionable age and more than any other films are the reason that horror is my favourite genre.
    plus anyone that shows disgust at your grief should go elsewhere it's that passion of yours that is the reason I follow your site and podcast in the first place

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  5. Wonderfully written. I had never seen The Funhouse before your recommendation years ago and now I mention to anyone who will listen.

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    1. Same here, it was the first movie in a long time that made me uncomfortable in the best way when I saw it.

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  6. This was beautiful, Patrick, and the most personal tribute I've yet to read about Tobe. Thank you for championing him while he was still was us and for continuing to carry the torch. He deeply deserved fans like you.

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  7. Great tribute Patrick. My heart goes out to Tobe Hoopers loved ones and to you. It's tough when someone who you owe so much respect for passes on.

    I do have to say thank you though. Your love for Tobe Hooper's body of work is so electric, it encouraged me to take a deep dive into his body of work over the past year. That's been one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. Discovering Texas Chainsaw Part 2 and The Funhouse has impacted my life as a movie-goer so much that I will be eternally grateful. It makes today tougher to have so much love and respect for someone, but listening to everyone on the site gush about the things they love as much as you and Tobe give me something to look forward to week after week. It helps make those really dark days better.

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  8. Fantastic read and tribute. When I woke up and read this news yesterday I was saddened as well, But i immediately thought of you and how you would take the news. From all the years of listening and reading I know how much Tobe and his work mean to you. TCM is probably my favorite Horror film and I barely scratched the surface into his work, but plan to watch as many as possible this October. We lost another great one and no one will fill his shoes.

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  9. Beautifully written, Patrick. This is a great tribute.

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  10. Patrick, this is such an amazing tribute. I was thinking about you all day yesterday after I heard the news.

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  11. The passing of all these horror legends is going to make for a sad scary movie month...

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    1. But also fun to watch stuff in their honor and realize how much they left the world better then they found it.

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  12. Beautifully written, Patrick. I watched The Funhouse for the first time a few weeks ago and loved it. I may never have sought it out if not for your championing of it. Same goes for Chainsaw 2 a few years back.

    I'll be spending the day seeing Lifeforce for the first time and rewatching Funhouse with Patrick's commentary.

    He may be gone, but an artist of this caliber should never be forgotten. RIP Tobe.

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    1. Patrick's commentary for Funhouse is not only insightful and a great listen, but it's a perfect example of the admiration he has for Hooper.

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    2. Agree! I listened to his commentary while waiting for a flight and his affection made me feel like I was still watching the movie.

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  13. Beautiful tribute, Patrick. As someone who knew the man, I know that he would have appreciated your kind and passionate words.

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  14. I'll always associate Mr. Hooper with this site. Besides Poltergeist, I'd never seen any of his work and wasn't even aware of him. Like so many of you guys, I dived into his work because of Patrick. One day during Scary Movie Month 2015 I did a marathon by myself dedicated to Tobe Hooper. The only marathon I've ever done dedicated to one director. I watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse, Lifeforce, and Eaten Alive. It was an awesome day that I'll never forget. I particularly fell in love with Carnivals and Naked Space Vampires. The Funhouse is such a different and original slasher (also my favorite Tobe) and Lifeforce is so unique and inspired and baffling that it really exists. Gosh, I love it. I'll always be thankful to Patrick for introducing me to one of my favorite filmmakers.

    I think I was more saddened by Mr. Hooper's death than any other celebrity death. I rewatched Texas Chainsaw 2 yesterday and it made me so happy to see what Tobe did best. I know many people don't agree (but I don't care) that movie truly is a masterpiece. It is perhaps the most "horror" horror movie ever and really feels like going through a halloween haunted house. It is demented, depraved, sick and it makes me so uncomfortable. And yet... I laugh, I have fun, I totally enjoy myself. How many directors can pull that off? It's a feat that baffles me. I can't believe it's a real movie that exists, and I'm so happy it does.

    There's still lots of Hooper I haven't seen, and I'll absolutely be fixing that soon.

    Bless you Tobe Hooper. We'll always love you and miss you.

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  15. A great, heartfelt article about a great filmmaker. It's time for a glass of whiskey and a Tobe Hooper movie marathon.

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  16. Much love Mr. Bromley. I was planning on viewing a few of Hooper's movies I hadn't seen in October, but now I think I'll have to fit in at least a rewatch of Texas Chainsaw and the Funhouse. It's sad to see him pass, but also great great to see that his wonderful catalog will around for all of us to enjoy until the sun burns out. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in particular, will never go out of fashion.

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  17. As testament to Chain Saw being one of the best horrors ever: I was too scared to watch it for years. I think that says it all. I had watched all the others: Halloween, Elm Street, Exorcist, no problem. But Chain Saw still seemed too scary. Nice article, Patrick.

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  18. I agree with the others, great tribute, Patrick.
    The Funhouse is my favorite Hooper movie as well. It has an elegance and command of craft that is gorgeous to behold.
    I recently re-watched Salem's Lot for the first time in decades, and was blown away at how truly scary it remains.

    My own small Tobe Hooper anecdote:
    I worked in a video store in Beverly Hills in the early 90's. Tobe was a frequent customer there. He wasn't very talkative or outgoing, but he was always super-polite and pleasant - a totally nice normal guy. As opposed to some of the other filmmakers or actors who would come in and act like entitled children, he was always a pleasure to help.

    RIP

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  19. When people whose art shapes our lives die, it is as emotionally devastating as losing a family member. If not more so. I did not cry when my parents died, as I had a difficult childhood with them. But I did cry for Tobe, George, Wes, and others. Nice job with this tribute.

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  20. I'm in floods of tears. I almost could not make it to the end of this

    Ah Fuck!

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  21. A very moving piece, Patrick.

    The description of how a movie lover develops an emotional attachment to certain films or to people involved with movie-making many of us here well understand. The relationship with movies can be as intense as one with a human being. For me, the connection was with Stanley Kubrick. His death almost twenty years ago was crushing.

    I have enjoyed many of Tobe Hooper's films and am sure they will continue to be watched by existing fans and discovered by a new generation. The first TCM film remains my favorite. Although there is a little gore, the films succeeds largely through atmosphere and suggestion. The first appearance of Leatherface always seems to get a reaction out of me.

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